Sour note for the BSO?

May 12, 1992

When the Hayden administration last winter forced out the knowledgeable, long-time director of Baltimore County's Arts and Sciences Commission, Lois Kahl Baldwin, arts advocates worried aloud that it could prove costly. For the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the bill may have just come due.

The people who run the symphony were stunned last week to learn that County Executive Roger Hayden had slashed the county's appropriation to the BSO from $490,000 to $222,000, a 55 percent cut, while county arts grants were being cut just 27 percent overall.

The symphony receives the lion's share of Baltimore County arts funding. It got one-third of county arts money this year; next year, under the proposed budget, it would receive a quarter of the total money. Yet the BSO is one of the more county-oriented of the city's cultural institutions with its Oregon Ridge summer concert series and its "tiny tots" performances for pre-schoolers at Goucher College in Towson.

The abrupt cut seemed to reflect a change in county thinking in its relationship with the BSO. The symphony people want to know, did we offend someone?

It's not that the symphony has done anything wrong. It's that the economy has badly depleted county revenues. A report on arts funding that the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments printed just last October, for example, already seems so outdated as to be of another era. It projected funding from Baltimore County for the BSO at $600,000 for the coming fiscal year.

The BSO, facing a million-dollar shortfall and concerned about the long-term effect of such fiscal pressures, is asking donors to increase their contributions. The organization is also raising ticket prices for the Oregon Ridge performances from $10 to $12, partly to offset maintenance costs at the park that the county no longer is willing to pay for.

Does this aid reduction mean there is simply a lack of county money -- or a lack of county vision? When the county council discussed arts funding recently, Chairman William A. Howard IV was most concerned that "county" programs get enough -- as if to say the symphony is strictly a city concern and need not be supported. Yet 43 percent of the BSO's subscribers reside in the county. The BSO is a regional orchestra, one that is so respected that it was used to promote the entire region on a recent overseas tour.

Mr. Hayden said he will look at "hardship cases" and reshuffle money in certain cases before the budget gets final approval. The BSO should not be penalized more than other arts groups. The symphony is a major-league institution that provides major benefits for Baltimore County residents. It is time for county officials to pay their fair share.

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